Being in a good, supportive relationship with someone you love is a wonderful thing — but even good, supportive relationships take work. Quinn Gee, a therapist based in D.C., knows this all too well, and in an educational and widely-shared Twitter thread, Gee gave some important tips for couples facing mental illness.
Gee noted this wasn’t necessarily information she gained from personal experience, but rather what she noticed after working with people in a clinical setting.
Gee also stressed that you can have a healthy relationship while battling mental illness. Like every relationship, you just have to put the work in. For those whose partners have a mental illness, this work may include supporting them when their symptoms flare, being understanding when they have a bad day and more. And although it’s easy to get discouraged, Gee had some great tips for making a relationship work when one or both of you have a mental illness.
Here are some of the tips she shared:
To continue the conversation, we asked people in our mental health community to share one “relationship tip” they would give a couple tackling mental illness together. Here’s what they told us:
1. “Just understand they aren’t their mental illness, that they don’t actually want to behave this way. I tell my fiancée this all the time, I have really bad anxiety so when I start asking questions, get frustrated really easy or even say things I don’t mean, it’s just anxiety coming out.” — Tim B.
2. “Lots of constant validation! You might think the person you love knows how much you love them, but negative self-talk and rumination can lead us to believe the opposite. Show them you love them through small actions, remembering the little stuff, but also tell them out loud how much they are loved. We tend to forget and trick ourselves into thinking there’s not a single person out there who loves us.” — Emma S.
3. “Communication and a lot of patience. I struggle myself, and my boyfriend is amazing. We have been together 10 years, needless to say, he’s patient and I try to communicate if I don’t know why I feel a certain way for no reason, or if there is a reason, what that reason is. I try to give people a manual with how to deal with me. Somehow they use it as a way to hurt me the most. Except my bf… he uses it to do the smallest things to make things easier, better, more comfortable. It’s the little things.” — Jenny R.
4. “1. Don’t belittle your partner’s experiences by saying, ‘So and so is worse off than you’ or ‘Just think positive.’ 2. Let your partner know you’re there for them (we don’t always know what we need you to do for us) and mean it. 3. Reassure them in various ways. When you text, ‘Call me,’ say why you need them to call you. Check in with them. Remind them they are loved! 4. Take a mental health first aid class. It will help you and your partner be more on the same page.” — Nicole C.
5. “I’m bipolar II, depressive and anxiety-ridden. The biggest tip I can give anyone who has a partner with mental illness is patience. My husband is so patient with me, it’s a serious blessing. We still fight and have disagreements, who doesn’t, but overall his patience is life saving. When I’m depressed or manic, he never expects me to rush into anything, he gives me room and helps me through things without getting mad. I really couldn’t get along without his love and kindness, he is my warrior.” — Dana B.
6. “Try to understand their illness isn’t about you. You did nothing wrong… I really struggled with my fiancé’s anxiety for a long time, but I learned that even when you don’t understand or know what to say, just be there. Don’t be another person to walk away because their illness. It’s hard. There’s good days and bad days. Make the most of the good and try to take something from the bad.” —Kevin M.
7. “For the person living with a mental illness, I would say communication is key. Don’t bottle all your emotions up because they will drag you to a very dark place. Emotions are very complex and even if you don’t understand what’s happening to you, communicate just that to your partner…You two will create such a beautiful unbreakable bond as you both grow and forge through this!” — Immaculate E.
8. “You need to listen. You need to be completely open minded. You have to be strong for them, because there are times when they can’t be. If they need time, give it to them. They don’t need a lot, but what they don’t need is negativity and hurtful words. Be and ear and a shoulder.” — Joshua R.
9. “Understand I don’t want or need fixing, I am very aware of how my brain works. I have days of self-care because they are important, I have routine because it is needed and most important, what may seem like a tantrum to you because you changed our plans last minute is the end of the world for me in that moment.” — Paula C.
10. “1. They aren’t their mental illness 2. Patience is everything 3. Don’t force them to do something they don’t want to. 4. Be there for their ups and downs. 5. Space space space. 6. Don’t say ‘someone has it worse,’ ‘get over it,’ ‘if you love me then you’ll stop this,’ because it makes their feelings that are very real for them invalid. 7. Love them with no strings attached.” — Erica K.
11. “Acknowledge their behavior may not always mirror their true feelings. Anxiety and depression can cause us to second guess ourselves, our relationships, make us scared of the future and cause us to make bad decisions that push our loved ones away and later come back to haunt us. Also, be aware of their treatment regimen. Something as simple as changing the dose on a person’s meds can have a radical effect on their emotions and behavior.” — Craig M.
12. “Figure out what your boundaries are. Your partner has an illness and will need care, they will be sick, they may not always act like themselves. As their partner you need to know where your lines are. And be clear on that. And take care of yourself.” — Amanda S.
13. “I have a mental illness and have dated folks with mental illness and honestly I think I good tip that I never heard enough is that if there are things that happen in the relationship that you’re not OK with, it’s OK to walk away. Mental illness shouldn’t be a reason to immediately quit a relationship, but it also shouldn’t be a reason to justify every/ any behavior or to stay with someone who just isn’t in a place to give you what you need. My current partner and I agreed that even in the worst mental spaces we have to be able to be safe and we have to be able to respect each other’s boundaries.” — Taylor D.
14. “I tend to have a ‘code word’ so my partner can immediately identify I’m in a bad place without me needing to explain anything. If I say or text him that word, it means I need support, not questions. Just to feel his presence there with me can be enough to pull me back from the brink. My code word is usually ‘wobble.'” — Jenny B.
What would you add?
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